SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN: 1530 hours local time.
"SHIT SHIT, SHIT, RED LIGHT .... HYDRAULICS." " Roger Captain. I see it." replied the male voice, calm as always. " Looks like we better be setting it down right now. There. The road at 2 o’clock looks like the only flat ground I can see. "
" Yea. Looks clear. You bring it down, I’ll call in", replied the female voice. She sounded calmer now , reassured and just a little shamed, by the matter of fact tone of the older warrant officer. But she remained worried enough to put her pride aside and let the more experienced warrant handle the emergency landing, even though she was nominally the officer in command of the UH-60 helicopter.
" Blade one one, this is Blade one six, Mayday, Mayday, Making emergency landing vicinity grid two three eight niner... I say again.. Mayday... emergency landing vicinity grid two three eight niner..over"
Only static came back to her over the radio. She tried again as the warrant officer lined the heavy copter up with the strip of sandy road which bisected the narrow valley below them. Again only static came back to her. There was no response from her unit‘s flight control station. Nor could she raise the special forces detachment they had just left 10 minutes earlier. Line of sight tended to be short in these mountains. With no contact with any station, there was nothing more for her to do other than warn the two door gunners in back and take a good grip on the sides of her armored seat as the aircraft spiraled downward. On either side of the road were steep boulder covered ridges; smaller rocks and gullies bordered the road itself. There was no room for error; the valley was barely wider than the copter’s blades. She realized that she was holding her breath. It took a force of will to make herself breath as she watched the snow dusted Afghani landscape came hurdling at her. ////////////////
As soon as the first hint of the noise of the helicopter’s rotors reached them, the ragged line of men had literally dissolve into the rocks of the ridgeline they were following. Instantly all but one man squatted down behind a rock, pulled a woolen blanket over their bodies to foil the American’s heat sensors, and lay huddled under it, a sincere appeal for Allah;s protection on each man’s lips. The only exception was a tall man dressed entirely in black, wearing an Arab head cloth, a kaffiyeh, along with expensive Western style synthetic cold weather clothing rather than the rough locally spun, earth colored wool coats and pants of the other men. He did condescend to kneel beside a rock outcropping, but he made no effort to hide himself under a blanket as his companions had done. Such a response was both beyond his experience since he had no knowledge of war as fought in Afghanistan and beneath his contempt as the descendant of proud warriors of the tribe of Beni Umaiya. Centuries ago, in the time of the Prophet, his Arabian ancestors had exploded out of the Arabian desert to conquered the civilized world for the Faith. He would not hide from infidels like these cowardly Afghan farmers. Instead, he welcomed the appearance of the aircraft. He longed to meet his enemies face to face in battle as his ancestors had. That was the reason he had come to this desolate place. He watched with interest as the lone helicopter spiraled down to a hard landing in the small valley directly below him. But instead of a squad of soldiers disembarking to do battle, he saw the craft shut down its engines, and three figures exit the now silent aircraft. Watching as they set one of their number to guard the turn in the road, he realized that they were oblivious to his presence above them on the ridge . Unable to believe his good fortune, he carefully scanned the surrounding sky, but could find no other aircraft. God was indeed good. With a whispered " Kehalis" , he curtly called the young man with the old eyes who was the leader of the Afghans to him. Kehalis was the only one of the Afghans who understood, if barely, his Arabic. Kehalis was also, unlike him, a man experienced in the ways of Afghanistan’s many wars. But even for a neophyte such as the dark man, the mechanics of destroying this handful of infidels which God had deliver into his hands seemed simple enough. God, he thought, was indeed gracious. Though he had only been inside Afghanistan for three days, he was already in a position to fulfill his vow of jihad by destroying at least these three infidels. He could only hope that God had been so kind as to make them American infidels.
The leader of the Poshtoons , the man named Kehalis, had also been watching the events unfolding below them. For once, he agreed with the arrogant Arab. It was an easy target- easy because the men below seemed oblivious to the dangers presented by men on the ridgeline. Provided they acted quickly before more Americans arrived. Unlike the dark man beside him, Kehalis was a veteran of years of mountain warfare, having fought in several jihads in Afghanistan even though he was technically a citizen of Pakistan . As a Poshtoon, he had little concept of such arbitrary national distinctions and was equally at home in the tribal areas on either side of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had fought twice against the Northern Alliance as a teenager and more recently against the Americans. Orphaned as a young boy during the mujahideen‘s war against the Russians, he had been found by his Mullah in a refugee camp in Pakistan and raised in the Mullah’s madrassa, his religious school. The Mullah had been the father Kehalis had lost, feeding him, protecting him, and then teaching him his duty to his Faith. For this, he owed his Mullah his loyalty and his service. Kehalis had no more thought of questioning that than he did of questioning the sunrise. He knew nothing else, had no one else. It was his Mullah who had ordered him to fight jihad against the Northern Alliance and the Americans, and it was the Mullah who had ordered him to organize and lead a band of men to accompany the Arab - which was how he thought of the tall dark man, since he had never been told the foreigner’s real name. Because his Mullah had charged him to obey the Arab, he did. He knew that the others in their band saw no reason to obey a foreigner, and an inexperienced warrior at that, even if a believer. That too was his people’s traditions; he did not think less of them for it. Kehalis simply accepted that, if he were to fulfill the charge given him by his Mullah, he had to balance their mistrust of the Arab against their strong desire for the money that the Arab had offered them to accompany him and fight for him.
Despite his obedience to the man, Kehalis despised and hated the Arab. He despised him because the Arab had come here to experience war as a sport, like others of his kind had come here long ago in peacetime to hunt exotic game. He knew that the Arab would spend a few weeks here on his private jihad and then go back to his comfortable world in Arabia without another thought for Kehalis or those like him who had lived with this unending war all their lives. He despised the Arab even more because he knew the man looked down upon him. The Arab was wealthy and traveled, while Kehalis was not. His arrogance in this was unforgivable in Kehalis’ eyes since it was a defiance of the words of the Prophet that all believers were equal. He despised the man for all these reasons, but he hated the Arab for a very personal reason. He hated him for the way he made fun of Kehalis’ spoken Arabic. Raised to speak only a dialectic of eastern Pashto, Kehalis had painfully taught himself written Arabic in order to be able to read the Koran in its original tongue. It was an achievement of which Kehalis was extraordinarily prou because it was the only thing which set him apart from his fellow students at the madrassa and the one thing which made him special to the Mullah, who, even if he could not comprehend the Arabic words, enjoyed listening to Kehalis speak the words of the Koran in God‘s own language. Kehalis knew he did not possess the purity of the spoken word that any Arab would take for granted,. But for the Arab to meanly mock his hard won skill enraged him. He would do as the Mullah ordered, but Kehalis would not be sadden if it was God’s will that the Arab went to paradise on this trip.
For the moment, Kehalis simply hid his feelings and nodded at the words the Arab spoke to him. The way the man wish to go about the attack was unnecessarily dangerous, but he did not argue with the Arab. He simply nodded his head and then gave his men the orders to do it the proper way. He knew from painful experience that killing Americans was not easy. They would take no chances. Three of his men with one of the tube shaped rocket propelled grenade launchers - the ubiquitous RPG which was their most effective weapon- were told to move to a position above the lone man guarding the bend in the road, taking full advantage of the way in which his attention was foolishly focused on the road itself rather than on the more dangerous ridgeline above him. That man was dangerous; he had a machinegun. Kehalis told the other six men with the remaining RPG to carefully move closer to the big helicopter for a better shoot. Kehalis could see the barrel of another machinegun extending from the left side of the machine; its side to side movement indicating that it was manned. Here was another dangerous man, but one which Kehalis thought could not see them on the ridgeline since he could not see the machinegunner in the helicopter . The two figures on the top appeared unarmed and focused only on fixing their machine. With care, none of the Americans would see his men until it was too late. Kehalis stayed with the Arab both to keep him from doing something foolish and to oversee both groups. Once his men were in position, he would give the signal by firing his AK. Kehalis watched and waited, his body absolutely still, his face blank, as once again he prepared himself to face battle. The Arab fidgeted beside Kehalis, compulsively checking and rechecking the magazine and safety of the shortened AK he carried, unable to contain his impatience for the bloodshed to begin .